Two Tales of One City

As the cradle of the confederacy and the birthplace of the civil rights movement, Montgomery, Alabama has embraced its nascent roots, and is ready to exploit its role in two historic struggles: one, a political secession that was hastily formed to preserve the rights of whites; and the other, a social revolution to protect the rights of blacks. Both have come up short, which makes Montgomery, arguably, a municipal work in progress.

A visit to the Rosa Parks Museum, integrated into a corner wing of Troy University’s urban campus, takes the visitor through an interactive display of film, story-telling, life-size dioramas, documents and artifacts that frame the Montgomery Bus Boycott and its aftermath as ground zero for racial equality.





Rosa Parks has been embraced as a national hero, the face of moral courage, and Mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

For her troubles and heroics, Rosa Parks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999.


A 10-minute walk along Washington Ave. to the Civil Rights Memorial Center, across the street from the Southern Poverty Law Center was eerily reminiscent of the calm before the storm. As the second largest city in Alabama, it seemed unusually quiet. The breezy and balmy climate had uncharacteristically produced few cars, and even fewer pedestrians. Shops were closed, and construction areas were still–as if the city was under lock-down or quarantine.

The entrance to the memorial behind Maya Lin’s sculptural tribute was roped off.


We caught the attention of an armed guard patrolling the area who asked if he could help.

“Isn’t this the entrance to the memorial center? Shouldn’t it be open?” I asked, pointing to the hours of operation.

Visitors to the Civil Rights Memorial Center have the opportunity to take the pledge and add their names to the Wall of Tolerance during their visit, and I had come to take the pledge:

By placing my name on the Wall of Tolerance, I pledge to take a stand against hate, injustice and intolerance. I will work in my daily life for justice, equality and human rights – the ideals for which the Civil Rights martyrs died.”

The guard shrugged. “Everything is shut down today, sir, because of the weather. Yes sir, they closed the schools an’ all, in anticipation of the storm that come through here early this morn’. So the memorial is closed as well, sir.”

“But it’s gorgeous outside,” Leah offered.

The guard nodded, “I know ma’am, but the storm is suppose to loop aroun’, an’ this kinda weather is completely unpredictable. Best you come by tomorrow for another look, okay? In the meantime, have you seen the state capital and the White House, just up the road?”

“Sounds like a plan,” I acknowledged.

The stately-looking capital sits alone on a green and projected a ghost house allure, devoid of any activity. I imagined Alabama governor Robert Bentley hiding under his desk–weathering his own personal storm of sexual misconduct, awaiting word from the State Ethics Committee who holds his legal fate in their sweaty fingers.


Directly across the street is the transplanted Confederate White House, home of Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of eleven southern breakaway states, whose doctrine upheld slavery as a states’ right along with political liberty for whites. Inside the house, an affable guide exchanged greetings and historical trivia in down-home Southern hospitality fashion.

“Make sure you buy plenty of cotton clothes before you leave town,” he drawled, alluding to the area’s cash crop, “an’ help our local farmers.”


Civil War telegram sign.jpg

Montgomery capital view.jpg

The town could use some help as well. About a quarter of the population lives close to the poverty line, and it shows in large chunks of the business community, where abandoned storefronts are less the exception than the rule. Nevertheless, there are pockets of revitalization, such as the Riverfront,

which features a minor league baseball park and amphitheater,

and the novelty of an old-fashioned steamboat cruise down the Alabama River.

Montgomery is not hiding from its past. It chooses to become a relevant city that tells it’s story from colliding perspectives, while dealing with hate and tempering with tolerance.

P.S. Four days after publishing this post, Governor Bentley is now an admitted felon who resigned to avoid prosecution–all because of chasing tail. Perhaps, the blog title be changed to “Three Tales/Tails of One City”?

Redneck Nation

Today I washed my truck. What worries me most is that tomorrow’s forecast calls for rain. Not that I’m worried about it raining–it’s that I knew it might rain tomorrow, and I washed my truck anyway.

And then there was Leah reminding me, “Why would you wash your truck when it’s only going to rain tomorrow?”

“I’m aware,” I confessed, “but it really needs cleaning. Y’know, I think I might be turning into a redneck.”

Just earlier in the day, my newest neighbor, a pipe welder from Checotah, OK and I had a serious conversation about truck engines and air brakes. I mean, I would never have had a conversation about truck engines and air brakes ever with anyone in my past life, and yet it seemed so natural today.

From the looks of things, I had a valued opinion on the benefit of driving a V-8 with a greater payload capacity, versus Ford’s highly touted twin turbo-charged V-6 that promises 10% more torque–a specification I was willing to sacrifice in favor of schlepping more junk in the trunk. And the pipe welder listened with interest, giving me that “I-know-whatcha-mean” nod.

It’s true that the truck was filthy. Yesterday, we were off-roading on a ridiculously narrow ridge road along Cheaha Mountain, Alabama’s highest peak at 2411 ft., and it was dirty fun.

“SLOW DOWN!!,” Leah reiterated a dozen times, gesturing wildly.

In my defense, I was only doing 25 mph, but maybe it felt faster to her given the road was badly rutted and had no guardrails to protect against the hairpin switchbacks. Each turn was met with “Oh, God!” by Leah.

When we returned to the Airstream, I noticed that a fine silt had infiltrated the closed bed of the truck through its weep holes, and coated everything with an asthma-inducing dust.

So today, everything had to come out of the back of the truck and be wiped down. Then, I took a hose to the sandy-colored Alabama particulate that coated the floor, and washed it all away. That’s when I got the itch to finish the job, and wash the exterior too. The weather couldn’t have been better–cloudless blue skies and 82 degrees, and it was refreshing working in a tank top and shorts. Surprisingly, Leah got swept up in the activity, and the two of us made short work of the task.

The pipe welder looked out from across the lawn. He was studying for a 100-question re-certification exam on April 20 between occasional tobacco chew spits.

“She sure looks purdy when she’s clean,” he gushed.

I realized I was becoming the person who I referenced in an earlier post (Rig or Mortis), and I was showing off my truck’s shine.

After writing this post, I stopped inside to freshen up, and I couldn’t help but notice my reflection in the overhead vanity mirror. Sho’nuff, my shoulders and neck had gotten plenty of color.

Sweet Home Alabama

Leaving Memphis at 9:30 am for a 285 mile jaunt to Coleman Lake in Talladega National Forest, AL was expected to take 5 1/2 hrs. That was the only thing certain about this leg of our trip. Where we would set up residence for the next three days was the biggest question mark.

Our design was to camp at the lake, and take advantage of the Department of Agriculture’s generous $10 site fee with electric and water hook-up provided. We monitored the vacancy prospects from the road, since there is no reservation system, unlike the Park Service, which operates through the Interior Department.

From the time we started out, we knew from Louise, a central office clerk that we were competing for seven coveted slices of real estate. Midway through our trip, a phone call confirmed that only five sites remained. And by the time we reached Birmingham–which was one hour away from our piece of Eden–the odds started working against us, when we learned that only 3 spots remained. It was time to consider contigency plans.

A quick scan of the internet was less than promising, considering we were looking to escape to an area that was off the grid with limited availability. Fortunately, we wandered across an obscure RV park with decent reviews just outside the forest within Heflin city limits that according to Lawrence still had three sites available for $30 a night.

We proceeded as planned, moving closer to staking our claim as we pulled into a Shell station off Exit 199 on I-20. A phone call to Louise produced a small panic attack; there was only one site left, and we were within striking distance. Could we, would we make it there in time? Gassing up the truck would put us behind by 15 minutes, but with 12 miles to empty, there was no doubt that this was time we needed to allow.

Once we started rolling again we were committed to the bitter end, now that cell service was interrupted by the beautiful forest scenery. The trees were filling in with seasonal green, and the switchbacks and narrow roads were becoming more challenging. We held our breath (not literally) during the last 10 miles of our journey up the mountain. We exhaled (literally) turning the corner into the campground; we had arrived to uncertain news. The campground steward met us at the truck.

“Are we in time?,” Leah blurted out.

“Are you the one’s been callin’?,” he wondered, “Cause last time I checked, I got one space left, B-37 I think, and you’re welcome to follow the road around ’til you come to it, and we’ll settle up after you get settled.”

Leah and I exchanged “we-just-won-the-lottery” grins, and chugged out in search of B-37. The site was almost a full circle around the ring road, up a steep embankment on the left with enough room to hold two trucks, a trailer, a pop-up tent, three bicycles, and seven interlopers. Gramps was busy hand-cranking the camper to a level position, while Granny was herding the kids.

“Are you shitting me?,” I asked nobody in particular.

We immediately resorted to Plan B, driving back down the mountain road while struggling with inputting a new GPS address. We got Lawrence on the phone when we were free and clear of our traitorous natural surroundings, and returned to 3-bar civilization.

“I got three spaces left,” he offered.

“We’ll take it,” Leah yelled. “We’ll be there in half an hour.”

An hour later, after setting up and rewarding myself with a cold beer while sitting in my burnt orange-colored travel chair atop a woven Navajo-patterned polyester mat, two massive 5th wheels with slide-outs pull in close on both sides of our Airstream, threatening to swallow us. While setting up on my right, Mr. Proximity turns to me.

“Hey, didn’t I see you at Tom Sawyer’s earlier today?”

As a matter of fact he did. We spent the last three nights trailering at Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River RV Park in West Memphis, AR. But the only people we spoke to were a retired couple from Ringwood who saw my truck plates, and that led us to playing Jersey geography. It turns out their son, Jeff and Leah’s daughter, Carrie are Facebook friends who graduated from Lakeland Regional High School together. Other than that, I had no connection to the people moving in beside me.

“Wow, I’m impressed you remembered my Airstream. I hope you’re not stalking us,” I kidded. “We were on our way to Coleman Lake, but got turned away last minute, so now we’re here.”

“Us too,” he said. “Can’t beat the $10 fee up there. We was passin’ through Talladega last Monday. Pretty sites an’ all, but between the highway traffic an’ the train whistles, I’d just as soon stay here where it’s quiet. Besides, we’ll be gone by morning.”

I liked the sound of that.